If there is one thing I absolutely love, it’s bargain bins. Because I live on a tight budget, bargain bins, clearance racks, thrift stores and Black Friday are one of the few ways I can consistently afford to purchase games. Some games I buy at launch, but that’s only about twice a year.
My personal philosophy tells me to never outright disavow entire genres. I don’t like racing games, but I’ll play Mario Kart and Burnout. Not a big fan of fighting games, but if it’s in the room I’ll go a few rounds. Sometimes a cheap way to dip my toe in the water of a new genre is the bargain bin.
Sometimes you find shit, and sometimes you find a great concept but poor execution like Enchanted Arms or Lollipop Chainsaw. Every now and then you find beautiful gems like Infinite Undiscovery.
This time I reached in and found Shadow Warrior for PS4.
Gems In the Manure Pile
I never played the original 1997 Shadow Warrior because I’ve never been a PC gamer. Someone put a controller in my hands early and I never let it go. I’ve never had a decent computer in my entire life, and when growing up my parents got me consoles so I’d stay off their computer.
You’re quickly reminded what the game was like the moment you hit Start because play footage from the original appears as the first loading screen. It’s very appropriate, since the game feels like a love letter to retro first-person shooters and the nerds that popularized them.
Shadow Warrior is hilariously self-aware. You play as Lo Wang, a master ninja mercenary who drives a fast car, lives in a mansion with a hidden cave where he hides his weapons, comics, and suit of armor made specifically for the zombie apocalypse. Lo Wang even goes as far as shaving his head, merely because that’s just what heroes do in movies like Kung Fu and Taxi Driver.
To give you an idea of who Lo Wang is, imagine Carter from Rush Hour, but in Lee’s body, infused with the self-awareness of Deadpool and the justifiable cockiness of Duke Nukem. Take that, and make him a huge nerd.
The basic premise of the story is Lo Wang was making a deal for his boss to buy an old katana, the Nobitsura Kage, for two million dollars. It went south and in the ensuing maelstrom, the sword is taken by a golem-like creature called a Whisperer. Lo Wang makes a deal with Hoji, a banished ancient whose partnership allows Lo Wang to use magic and Ki.
The sword is one of three which when formed together creates the only thing capable of killing an ancient. Lo Wang seeks to recover the sword for his boss, and Hoji seeks to make the swords whole in order to kill the ancients who banished him. The ancients wish to retrieve these swords to prevent this. Never once do I question any character motivations.
Playing The Game
Gameplay is first person with a heavy emphasis on sword fighting. While the firearms are versatile, fun, and effective, the sword is an absolute scene-stealer. You can level up and learn skills that can be executed with simple directional and button commands. You have three ways to level up which all use a separate form of in-game currency, allowing you to allocate your resources more effectively.
In true FPS throwback fashion, the game is saturated with Easter eggs, gags, and random zaniness. Players are rewarded for their exploration with one of the three currencies, or a funny gag which includes but not limited to humorous fortune cookies or an anime chick showing behind a waterfall.
The controls are simple to learn but are often needlessly frustrating. You can quickly select between two weapons with the triangle button, but the sword can always be drawn with left on the D-pad. However, when you draw the sword, it replaces the previous weapon on quick select. I’m just nitpicking, but this never goes away.
Thankfully, the sword will be your primary weapon. Right trigger does a standard slash, while left does a charged heavy slash. Directional commands and one of the triggers activated skills such as healing, a shockwave which floors enemies, a shield, a 360-degree spin slash, and many more. The system works, but the commands are temperamental as hell. Doing them fast and slow have both worked and failed, so I couldn’t tell you which was more effective.
I might have enjoyed the melee fighting more if I had never played the Condemned series. Condemned is still the shining example of this gameplay style.
Another annoyance is the button you use to interact with the environment to open doors and grab objects also causes Lo Wang to either wipe blood off the katana, or check his ammunition. It’s neat until you’ve done it a few thousand times on accident.
I feel like I should dock Shadow Warrior for looking like an early PS3 game, but it seems to add to the charm. Several secrets intentionally render the environment to its 1997 predecessor. What I must say is that I can’t recall a single time I was ever caught on the environment, or witnessed clipping. There are also no invisible walls; the game cleverly uses cars, debris, and what seems to be a prop wall, where on the other side I can see an army of killer robots.
My only complaint is how confined it often felt when I have a sword cutting demons to ribbons but I’m following a perfectly laid out path in bamboo instead of making my own path. Many of the items in the environment are breakable, but not bamboo?
The soundtrack is what you’d expect: a blend of oriental strings and classic rock. Lo Wang and Hoji’s banter is hysterical and where most of the exposition is given to the player without the need of cut scenes.
Shadow Warrior was a hilariously good time, and a great nostalgia trip. For the ten bucks it cost me, I couldn’t have done much better.